Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS



Project ID: 708362
Funded under: H2020-EU.1.3.2.
Country: United Kingdom
Domain: Health

Nutritional genetics: we are what we eat

Across the animal kingdom, individuals are known to adapt their behaviour, reproduction and lifespan in response to their internal state and the food available. European scientists wished to determine the genetic background behind this intriguing adaptation.
Nutritional genetics: we are what we eat
In female insects, mating induces significant changes in egg laying, food consumption and immunity. Accumulating evidence indicates that these phenotype changes emerge as a result of differential gene expression that also involves genes implicated in metabolic pathways. This metabolic shift presents as a change in dietary preferences to meet the nutritional demands of the organism.

Studying sex-specific genetics of nutrition

Scientists of the EU-funded DIET-SEX-GENOMICS project wished to further study the genetics behind changes in dietary requirements and dietary choices of males and females. Using Drosophila melanogaster as a model organism, they combined genetic crosses, dietary manipulation and next generation sequencing methodologies to address these questions. “Our aim was to investigate what each sex needs to eat to achieve maximum reproductive fitness and how this varies between different genotypes,″ explains project coordinator Dr Max Reuter, host of the Marie Skłodowska-Curie fellow Dr Florencia Camus.

Researchers sampled different genetic variants of Drosophila and fed them synthetic diets with precisely quantified macronutrients. In one type of experiment, they addressed the organisms' preference by providing separate protein and carbohydrate foods. In the second experimental design, the scientists provided food with various fixed compositions and estimated reproductive fitness. “This type of experiment allowed us to determine which foods maximise fitness,″ continues Dr Camus.

Overall, results revealed significant genetic variation for both dietary choice and requirements in each sex. For example, males of some genotypes showed the fitness maximum under carbohydrate-rich conditions that is typical for their sex, while males of other genotypes showed nutritional requirements more similar to that of females.

Application of next generation sequencing techniques helped in better understanding the physiological gene responses of the sexes to a male-beneficial carbohydrate-rich diet and a female-beneficial protein-rich diet. This data reveal which genes change in expression in response to a specific diet, and how regulation differs between the sexes.

Impact of the work

The work carried out during the DIET-SEX-GENOMICS project will help identify the genes responsible for the sex-specific response to nutrition. The next step is to further dissect diet responses and understand how genetic variation is generated and maintained. Experimentally validating those correlative inferences using genome editing approaches is another aim of the scientific team.

As Dr Reuter emphasises, “characterisation of the transcriptional response to dietary shifts in the two sexes will help us identify key regulatory genes and processes, which we will then be able to compare between different genotypes.″ Preliminary data point towards a shared transcriptional response to diet between the two sexes with some intriguing exceptions where the sexes respond in opposite directions.

From a biological perspective, the DIET-SEX-GENOMICS findings demonstrate that reproductive fitness emerges from an intricate interplay between environmental and genetic factors underlying behavioural and physiological food responses. Studying these differences further is expected to provide fundamental insight into metabolism and physiology.

Importantly, extrapolating this information to humans further reinforces the emerging need for personalised medicine. “If optimal diet - like drug treatments - depends on an individual's genetic makeup, then understanding the genetics of metabolism can help tailor nutritional advice to personal needs″, concluded Dr Camus. Taking into account the uniqueness of each individual in this way would significantly benefit public health.


DIET-SEX-GENOMICS, gene, diet, nutrition, female, male, reproductive fitness, next generation sequencing, metabolism
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